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A novel from one of the country's most prolific and popular YA authors, this book, set in Port-au-Prince, Haiti during the January 2009 earthquake, follows the struggle of Joshua, a Canadian boy at the centre of the tragedy.
Fifteen-year-old Joshua has travelled from Toronto to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in order to help with a charity mission. In confronting the poverty and and injustice that surrounds him, Joshua struggles to find meaning in the cruelty of the world. And then devastation hits — and Joshua finds himself at the very centre of a catastrophic earthquake. Will he be able to save himself? And, if he does, how will he find the faith and hope he needs to go on?
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ERIC WALTERS' young adult novels have won numerous awards, including the Silver Birch, Blue Heron, Red Maple, Snow Willow, and Ruth Schwartz Awards, and have received honours from UNESCO's international award for Literature in the Service of Tolerance. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I looked up at the board behind the counter and then at the clock suspended from the ceiling. We’d be boarding in less than ten minutes if the flight was on time—were Air Canada flights ever on time? I took a sip from my Timmy’s—the last good cup of tea I was going to have until we got back on Canadian soil in two weeks.
I guess I shouldn’t have complained. It was a small price to pay, because it also meant leaving behind the winter weather of January in Canada for the tropical warmth of Haiti. Technically it was their winter, too, but that just meant that the temperature would be down in the low thirties. It was also their dry season, so not only would there be no snow, there’d probably be no rain, either. I’d been checking the weather reports on the Internet every day since Christmas. The coldest day had been thirty-one degrees, with the long-range forecast predicting two weeks of nearly perfect weather. Hot, dry, and not only away from winter weather but away from school. This extended Christmas holiday was more like an extended Christmas present!
If this had been the summer, with no school and good weather at home, I would have kicked up a lot more fuss about being dragged along in the first place. It probably wouldn’t have done much good, but I’d have at least tried to make it so uncomfortable for my father that he would have found somebody to take care of me in Toronto while he went. After all, he wouldn’t have wanted me to be an embarrassment.
And that, of course, was the biggest downside to all of this—my father was not only coming along, he was the leader of our little mission trip to Haiti. All of the other kids—with the exception of my sister, of course—got to leave their parents behind. But my father would be there, front and centre, all the time. And the worst of the worst was that there was some sort of bizarre expectation that I would be a good role model on this trip, a reflection of his goodness. Barely three months into his appointment at a new church, with a new congregation, I knew that everybody was still watching us closely, and this little trip would be 24/7 observation. I pulled my cap down lower on my head, slipped on my sunglasses, and went to reinsert my earbuds.
“Air Canada Flight 950 to Port-au-Prince will begin boarding shortly for executive class, business class, and those passengers requiring additional assistance or travelling with small children.”
I always thought it was strange that those groups were put together—were businessmen like children? Did executives require physical assistance because their wallets were so big?
My father got to his feet. “Could I have everybody gather around, please?” he called out.
The rest of our group got up—some practically leaping to their feet in response to his request. If I’d put on my earbuds sooner I could have maybe faked not hearing, but that wasn’t going to work now.
We all trailed after him into an open space away from the seating area.
“Could we all gather in a circle, please?” he called out in a loud voice.
Oh, goodness, now I knew what he was going to do. Maybe I could slip away or—my little sister, Sarah, took my hand. She knew what was going to happen next, too.
Kids started tentatively taking places and sort of shuffling and bumping until a rough circle of people formed, with my father on the far side, directly across from where I stood. “Please join hands,” he commanded.
Suddenly there was more significance to the person each one of us was standing beside. Some quickly grabbed hands while others hesitated or rubbed their hands against their pants to wipe away the sweat. Sarah was already holding my right hand and a girl named Naomi grabbed my left—she obviously wasn’t worried about the sweat factor because I could feel the wetness of her palm. I had the urge to take away my hand to wipe it off but she held on with an iron grip that was well beyond what I’d have expected from somebody of her size.
“As we get ready to take the next step, I want to take a moment to ask for God’s blessing. Please bow your heads in prayer,” he ordered.
I lowered my head slightly but kept my eyes open.
“O God, you called Abraham your servant out of Ur and kept him safe and sound in his wanderings,” he said.
His voice was much louder than it needed to be to reach our little circle. The looks on the faces of other passengers waiting and walking past were a combination of curious, amused, disgusted, and embarrassed. Take out the amused and curious and that was basically how I was feeling myself. I almost closed my eyes to hide, like a two-year-old who covers his eyes and figures because he can’t see you, you can’t see him. That made no sense, but still I lowered my gaze so I wasn’t looking beyond the circle any more.
“Be for us a support when setting out, shade from the sun, a mantle against the rain,” he called out, “and provide friendship along the way.”
Friendship along the way? I raised my gaze to carefully, discreetly look around the circle. There was my father, a woman next to him named Iris, another much older woman from our church congregation named Michelle, and fifteen kids, including me and my sister. The oldest was only a year older than me at seventeen, but most were my age or a year younger. My sister, at twelve, was the youngest and had been allowed to come along only because my father was leading.
I could look at people with impunity. Every head was bowed, every set of eyes tightly closed, as ordered, so nobody could see me looking. And, if somebody did look up, who were they to tell on me since their eyes were open, too?
I looked from person to person. I knew most of these kids, by appearance if not by name, but there was nobody here who I’d have even remotely considered a friend, nobody I spent time with outside of the obligatory church events, and, quite frankly, nobody I wanted to spend time with. The few friends I’d been able to make since we’d moved were at school—a couple of guys from the basketball team, some people I ate lunch with—but nobody who went to our church, or, for that matter, any church.
Our little group had five boys and ten girls. That would have been good odds for the boys if the girls had been hot. But they really weren’t. The style theme for this trip was a combination of Baptist bland and fashion faux pas. The dress code, apparently, was clothing your mom bought for you that you didn’t have the good sense or the guts to refuse to wear. Naomi—the one holding my hand in a sweaty iron grip—was the best-looking of the bunch. If she’d dressed better she could have actually been good-looking, period.
I really didn’t much care about the kids, though. I was more concerned about Iris. Okay, concerned wasn’t the right word. I was more annoyed by Iris. There she stood, head down, eyes closed, standing at my father’s side, holding one of his hands. No surprise there. I actually would have been shocked if she hadn’t been standing there.
Iris was one of those women . . . those . . . those . . . groupies who seem to be drawn to ministers. They flirt and flit around ministers, volunteering for committees and fawning over the pastor as if every word from his mouth is gold. My mother had pointed them out to me. They’d been at every church we’d ever been assigned to. It was stupid and really rather insulting that they behaved that way even around my mother, and . . . I guess that wasn’t a problem any more.
Iris was single, at least a few years younger than my father, and dressed in a style that was almost too revealing, almost too young, but not quite. I was positive that she was only coming on this trip because my father was leading it. But so far, in spite of her advances, my father wasn’t biting. Not yet, at least. Maybe he was still too hurt. Maybe he was being respectful. Maybe he still couldn’t get my mother out of his head. I knew I couldn’t.
“Bear us up in fatigue and defend us under attack!” my father said, his voice rising, taking on that minister-like quality, a sort of Southern twang that evangelists pick up once they get going. I just wasn’t sure what he thought was going to happen . . . defend us from attack? Were we going to Haiti or Afghanistan? Was this a mission trip or a military operation?
“If it is your will, protect us, Lord!”
If it was God’s will to protect us? Talk about making up an excuse. So, if something did happen it wasn’t because God didn’t listen or didn’t care, but because he’d decided to do something bad. Yeah, right, God sat up on his throne thinking, “Yep, I’m going to kill that girl Ashley because she didn’t pray hard enough.” What a cop-out: It is God’s will . . . God works in mysterious ways. People use that quote like it was something that Jesus said, or as if it was a quote from the Bible when it’s just a line from some old hymn—and not even a good hymn.
My father continued with his sermon . . . his prayer. I had to hand it to him, he did know the Bible, and he could throw out a good sermon, prayer, or service. If I hadn’t heard this one so many times before, I would have been more impressed.
My father had an impressive repertoire of well-rehearsed ad libs, set pieces, and quotes that all sounded completely spontaneous. Didn’t fool me, though. I’d heard them all a million times before. He was like a live remix tape, a “best of ” compilation available only on TV from Time-Life, like music from the Seventies . . . no, that wasn’t right, I liked music from the Seventies.
Strangely, that was one of the few things my father and I still had in common. He loved the music from the Sixties and Seventies. I’m not sure how his congregation would have felt about him grooving on Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Stones, but it was at least something we could agree on, listen to, and talk about. He definitely didn’t think that Eric Clapton was God, but he probably thought he was as close to God as a guitar player could get. Well, maybe Hendrix fit in there, too.
As my father continued to ramble on, I couldn’t help but think what would have happened if a bunch of Muslims had gathered to praise Allah and say prayers before they got on a plane. Well, really, I didn’t need to wonder. The whole bunch of them would have found themselves in a back room being stripped down and exposed to a cavity search. God may be great in all religions, but there was a definite advantage around here if your God was from the Bible and not the Koran.
“With your grace let us fulfill the purpose of our trip and return safe and sound to our homes.” He paused. “Amen.”
“Amen,” we echoed.
Everybody looked up and released hands. Everybody except the girl holding my hand.
“I think you can let go now,” I said.
“Oh, yeah, sorry!” Naomi started to blush.
Great. I hadn’t meant to make her feel bad, I’d just wanted her to let go of my hand. I knew she had a little crush on me. I’d made the mistake of being nice to her after church one day and she’d taken that as a sign of interest instead of polite indifference.
I shuffled away, trying to wipe the sweat from my hand on my pants nonchalantly, without her noticing.
“This is very exciting,” she said as she trailed after me.
“Yep. Exciting,” I agreed.
“I’m sure we’ll fulfill the purpose of our trip,” she added enthusiastically.
“The purpose?” Did she mean making my father look like a good Christian leader, or making a bunch of rich, white teenagers from a rich suburb feel that they were somehow doing something for the world?
“You know, helping to build the addition to the orphanage and caring for the needy,” she said.
“I’m sure we’ll do something,” I agreed, “although I’m not sure I’d want to live in any house that a bunch of kids helped to build . . . unless you’re a trained bricklayer and didn’t tell anybody?”
She looked confused. “No . . . I’ve never done anything like that before. Have you?”
I chuckled slightly. So much for subtle sarcasm.
“No. And I’m afraid I’ve never trained as a bricklayer, either,” I said.
“General boarding will commence for all remaining passengers on Air Canada Flight 950 to Port-au-Prince,” the P.A. announced.
“That’s us,” I said. “See you on board.”
“That would be great . . . maybe we’re seatmates.”
“Maybe,” I said. I didn’t really care. I was going to put on some headphones, watch a movie, and try very hard to ignore whoever was sitting beside me. Especially if it was my father. No, I probably didn’t have to worry about that. My guess was that Iris would somehow manage to snag that seat.
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Doubleday Canada 2010-01-01, 2010. Paperback. Condition: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Seller Inventory # 9780385670814B
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2011. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0385670818
Book Description Doubleday Canada, 2011. Paperback. Condition: New. Brand New!. Seller Inventory # VIB0385670818